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Democratic outrage grows over conditions at border detention centers

Democratic anger over the conditions faced by immigrants detained at the border grew Tuesday, a day after a group of lawmakers visited some of the most controversial shelters in Texas.

Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) tweeted photos and videos of Monday’s visit by 14 lawmakers to a facility in Clint, Texas. He said the photos underlined concerns that the centers are overcrowded and those held face inhumane conditions.

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In some of Castro’s photos, women could be seen sitting on the floor, with one saying she was denied medicine and another saying her daughter had been taken from her.

“Our border patrol system is broken,” Castro tweeted. “And part of the reason it stays broken is because it’s kept secret. The American people must see what is being carried out in their name.”

Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.), another member of the 14-person delegation which visited the centers, slammed them on Tuesday for “inhumane conditions,” and called for border agents to be retrained.

Rep. Veronica EscobarVeronica EscobarAbbott signs bill making concealed carry without permits legal in Texas Democrats weigh next steps on Jan. 6 probe Gun violence: Save the thoughts and prayers, it's time for Senate action MORE (D-Texas) described the camps as “abhorrent for migrants, especially children, and it’s overwhelming and straining communities as well as agents and officers.”

Rep. Joe KennedyJoseph (Joe) Patrick KennedySupreme Court confounding its partisan critics Warren says she'll run for reelection to Senate Five centrist Democrats oppose Pelosi for Speaker in tight vote MORE III (D-Mass.) described the centers on Monday as part of a “broken” system exacerbated by Trump administration policies.

“The entire system is broken, rotten and rife with abuse,” he tweeted. Kennedy also criticized President TrumpDonald TrumpWhite House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine Poll: 30 percent of GOP voters believe Trump will 'likely' be reinstated this year Black Secret Service agent told Trump it was offensive to hold rally in Tulsa on Juneteenth: report MORE for doubling down on his policies, including threatened raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), despite the “growing horror.”

Democratic anger is also being fueled by a ProPublica investigation published Monday on a Facebook group for current and former Border Patrol agents that was filled with derogatory posts targeting migrants and Democratic lawmakers.

Members of the group joked about migrants who died in their custody. The group’s discussions also included a graphic, false illustration of a smiling Trump forcing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezHillary Clinton backs Shontel Brown in Ohio congressional race Ocasio-Cortez, Gillibrand and Moulton call for more high-speed rail funding in infrastructure package Pelosi picks Democrats for special panel tackling inequality MORE's (D-N.Y.) head toward his crotch. Ocasio-Cortez was one of the lawmakers who visited the Clint facility.

The agent who posted the image commented: “That’s right bitches. The masses have spoken and today democracy won.”

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has opened an investigation into the Facebook group. Agency chief Carla Provost condemned the posts, calling them “completely inappropriate.”

“Any employees found to have violated our standards of conduct will be held accountable,” she said in a statement.

The Trump administration and its supporters have pushed backed on the descriptions of the detention centers by Democrats.

In an interview Tuesday on Fox News, former ICE Director Tom Homan accused Ocasio-Cortez of intentionally misinforming people about the conditions at the border centers.

Ocasio-Cortez on Monday said some women had told her they had to get water from a toilet bowl.  

“Ocasio-Cortez is clearly, intentionally, misinforming the American public,” Homan said on Fox News’s “America’s Newsroom.”

“Every time she opens her mouth she’s wrong,” he added.

Homan focused on the claim about women being forced to drink water from toilets, sharing a picture of a hybrid toilet/water fountain found in the facilities.

But Ocasio-Cortez in several tweets on Monday said what she had seen at the facility and heard from people gave her no confidence in CBP.

“These officers felt brazen in there,” she said.

She wrote that officers had sought to sneak photos of lawmakers during the visit, even though the lawmakers were asked to check their phones upon entry.

“CBP’s 'good' behavior was toxic,” she wrote. “Imagine how they treat the women trapped inside.”

Rep. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdFirst Democrat jumps into key Texas House race to challenge Gonzales Will the real Lee Hamiltons and Olympia Snowes please stand up? The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden, Congress drawn into pipeline cyberattack, violence in Israel MORE (R-Texas), who has also visited the Clint facility, said in an interview Tuesday on CNN that he had not witnessed any detainees drinking water from a toilet bowl. He also said conditions at the facilities have improved since 2014 and 2015.

"When people are in our custody they should be treated humanely," Hurd said in the interview. He also noted that about 25 children are currently detained at the Clint facility, a number that has fallen in recent weeks.

Monday's visit in Texas is just the start of the Democrats' planned oversight of migrant detention centers around the country during the long Independence Day recess. On Tuesday, Rep. Frederica WilsonFrederica Patricia WilsonBiden offers traditional address in eerie setting Congressional Black Caucus members post selfie celebrating first WH visit in four years Rep. Frederica Wilson shares her famous hat collection with Netflix MORE (D-Fla.) will lead another group of lawmakers in visiting the Homestead facility in South Florida. 

“After traveling all the way to South Texas to locate the girls separated from their parents and trapped in detention facilities, I was very surprised to locate them just outside of my congressional district," Wilson said in a statement.

Joining her on the trip will be at least eight other Democrats, including Reps. Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonLobbying world Hillicon Valley: Biden gives TikTok and WeChat a reprieve | Colonial Pipeline CEO addresses Congress again | Thomson Reuters shareholders want review of ICE ties Colonial Pipeline may use recovered ransomware attack funds to boost cybersecurity MORE (Miss.), the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee; John LewisJohn LewisCommemorating Juneteenth: Learn from the past to improve the present and future Joe Manchin keeps Democrats guessing on sweeping election bill Hundreds in West Virginia protest Manchin's opposition to voting rights legislation MORE (Ga.), the civil rights legend; and Katherine ClarkKatherine Marlea ClarkPelosi signals no further action against Omar Progressives rally behind Omar while accusing her critics of bias Pelosi, leaders seek to squelch Omar controversy with rare joint statement MORE (Mass.), the vice chair of the Democratic Caucus. 

Some Democrats are frustrated at their own party for passing a $4.6 billion emergency border funding last week, despite the plummeting border apprehension numbers in June. Apprehensions of immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border dropped 28 percent from May to June.

"There was almost nobody being held," said Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif.), a member of the delegation.

"I saw maybe 80 people at Border Patrol station number one," she added. "Tents and tents. Empty, empty everywhere."

Barragán said there was frustration among some members of the delegation that centrist Democrats forced passage of the funding bill to help CBP and Border Patrol deal with a detention center overflow that's no longer there.

The battle over the border is increasingly bleeding into the race for the White House. At last week’s presidential debates, Democrat after Democrat criticized the administration’s policies.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) on Tuesday unveiled a plan that he said would “virtually eliminate” immigration detention.

The discussion among Democrats has also led to talk about decriminalizing border crossings.

Trump is expected to lean into his hard-line immigration positions during his campaign, and has vowed that ICE raids intended to step up deportations will begin after the July 4 holiday.

Mike Lillis and Rafael Bernal contributed.